Here is a summary of the flights of the four planes that were hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, as compiled by the commission investigating the attacks:
At 8:00 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 began its takeoff roll at Logan Airport in Boston. A Boeing 767, Flight 11 was bound for Los Angeles with 81 passengers, 11 crew, and 24,000 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:09 a.m., it was being monitored by FAA's Boston Center (located in New Hampshire). At 8:13 a.m., the controller instructed the flight to "turn twenty degrees right," which the flight acknowledged. This was the last transmission to which the flight responded.
Sixteen seconds later, the controller instructed the flight to climb to 35,000 feet. When there was no response, the controller repeated the command seconds later, and then tried repeatedly to raise the flight. He used the emergency frequency to try to reach the pilot. Though there was no response, he kept trying to contact the aircraft.
At 8:21 a.m., American 11 turned off its transponder, immediately degrading the available information about the aircraft. The controller told his supervisor that he thought something was seriously wrong with the plane. At this point, neither the controller nor his supervisor suspected a hijacking. The supervisor instructed the controller to follow standard operating procedures for handling a "no radio" aircraft.
The controller checked to see if American Airlines could establish communication with American 11. He became even more concerned as its route changed, moving into another sector's airspace. Controllers immediately began to move aircraft out of its path, and searched from aircraft to aircraft in an effort to have another pilot contact American 11. At 8:24:38, the following transmission came from American 11:
AMERICAN 11: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.
The controller only heard something unintelligible; he did not hear the specific words "ÛwÝe have some planes." Then the next transmission came seconds later:
AMERICAN 11: Nobody move. Everything will be O.K. If you try to make any moves, youll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
Hearing that, the controller told us he then knew it was a hijacking. The controller alerted his supervisor, who assigned another controller to assist him, and redoubled efforts to ascertain the flight's altitude. Because the controller didn't understand the initial transmission, the Manager of Boston Center instructed the center's Quality Assurance Specialist to "pull the tape" of the radio transmission, listen to it closely, and report back.
Between 8:25 a.m. and 8:32 a.m., in accordance with the FAA protocol, Boston Center managers started notifying their chain of command that American 11 had been hijacked. At 8:28 a.m., Boston Center called the Command Center in Herndon, Va. to advise management that it believed American 11 had been hijacked and was heading toward New York Center's airspace. By this point in time, American 11 had taken a dramatic turn to the south. At 8:32 a.m., the Command Center passed word of a possible hijacking to the Operations Center at FAA headquarters. The duty officer replied that security personnel at headquarters had just begun discussing the hijack situation on a conference call with the New England Regional office.
The Herndon Command Center immediately established a teleconference between Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers so that Boston Center could help the others understand what was happening.
At 8:34 a.m., the Boston Center controller received a third transmission from American 11:
AMERICAN 11: Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves.
In the succeeding minutes, controllers were attempting to ascertain the altitude of the southbound Flight 11.
Military Notification and Response:
Boston Center did not follow the routine protocol in seeking military assistance through the prescribed chain of command. In addition to making notifications within the FAA, Boston Center took the initiative, at 8:34 a.m., to contact the military through the FAA's Cape Cod facility. They also tried to obtain assistance from a former alert site in Atlantic City, unaware it had been phased out. At 8:37:52 a.m., Boston Center reached NEADS. This was the first notification received by the military at any level that American 11 had been hijacked:
FAA: Hi. Boston Center TMU, we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.
NEADS: Is this real-world or exercise?
FAA: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.
NEADS promptly ordered to battle stations the two F-15 alert aircraft at Otis Air Force Base, about 153 miles away from New York City. The air defense of America began with this call.
At NEADS, the reported hijacking was relayed immediately to Battle Commander Colonel Robert Marr. After ordering the Otis fighters to battle stations, Colonel Marr phoned Major General Larry Arnold, commanding General of the First Air Force and the Continental Region. Marr sought authorization to scramble the Otis fighters. General Arnold instructed Marr "to go ahead and scramble the airplanes, and wed get permission later." General Arnold then called NORAD headquarters to report.
F-15 fighters were ordered scrambled at 8:46 a.m. from Otis Air Force Base. But NEADS did not know where to send the alert fighter aircraft: "I don't know where I'm scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, a destination." Because the hijackers had turned off the planes transponder, NEADS personnel spent the next minutes searching their radar scopes for the elusive primary radar return. American 11 impacted the World Trade Centers North Tower at 8:46:40 a.m. Shortly after 8:50 a.m., while NEADS personnel were still trying to locate American 11, word reached them that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
Radar data show the Otis fighters were airborne at 8:53 a.m.. Lacking a target, they were vectored toward military controlled airspace off the Long Island coast. To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the fighters were brought down to military air space to "hold as needed." From 9:08 a.m. to 9:13 a.m., the Otis fighters were in this holding pattern.
In summary, NEADS received notice of the hijacking nine minutes before it impacted the north tower. The nine minutes notice was the most the military would receive that morning of any of the four hijackings.
United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767 carrying 65 passengers from Boston to Los Angeles, took off from Logan Airport at 8:14 a.m. At 8:37 a.m. Boston Center polled United 175, along with other aircraft, about whether they had seen an "American 767" (American 11), and United 175's pilots said they had seen it. The controller turned United 175 away from it as a safety precaution.
At 8:41 a.m., United 175 entered New York Center's airspace. The controller responsible for United 175 was unfortunately the same controller assigned the job of tracking the hijacked American 11. At 8:47 a.m., at almost the same time American 11 crashed into the North Tower, United 175's assigned transponder code changed, then changed again. These changes were not noticed for several minutes, because the controller was focused on finding American 11, which had disappeared. At 8:48 a.m., a New York Center manager provided the following report on a Command Center teleconference about American 11, including information that had been relayed by the airline:
MANAGER, NEW YORK CENTER: Okay. This is New York Center. We're watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they've told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have right now.
The New York Center controller and manager were unaware that American 11 had already crashed.
At 8:51 a.m., the controller noticed the change in the transponder reading from United 175. The controller asked United 175 to go back to the proper code. There was no response. Beginning at 8:52 a.m., the controller made repeated attempts to reach the crew of United 175. Still no response. The controller checked that his radio equipment was working and kept trying to reach United 175. He contacted another controller at 8:53 a.m., and worried that "we may have a hijack" and that he could not find the aircraft.
Another commercial aircraft in the vicinity then radioed in with "reports over the radio of a commuter plane hitting the World Trade Center." The controller spent the next several minutes handing off the other flights on his scope to other controllers and moving aircraft out of the way of the unidentified aircraft (believed to be United 175) as it moved southwest and then turned northeast toward New York City. At approximately 8:55 a.m., the controller-in-charge notified a New York Center manager that she believed United 175 had also been hijacked. The manager tried to notify the regional managers and was told that the managers were discussing a hijacked aircraft (presumably American 11) and refused to be disturbed. At 8:58 a.m., the New York Center controller searching for United 175 told another New York controller "we might have a hijack over here, two of them."
Between 9:01 a.m. and 9:02 a.m., a manager from New York Center told the Command Center in Herndon:
MANAGER, NEW YORK CENTER: We have several situations going on here. It's escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us . . . . We're, we're involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here. . . .
The "other aircraft" New York Center referred to was United 175. Evidence indicates that this conversation was the only notice received prior to the second crash by either FAA headquarters or the Herndon Command Center that there was a second hijack. While Command Center was told about this "other aircraft" at 9:01 a.m., New York Center contacted New York terminal approach control and asked for help in locating United 175.
TERMINAL: I got somebody who keeps coasting but it looks like he's going into one of the small airports down there.
CENTER: Hold on a second. I'm trying to bring him up here and get you ... there he is right there. Hold on.
TERMINAL: Got him just out of 9,5009,000 now.
CENTER: Do you know who he is?
TERMINAL: We're just, we just we don't know who he is. We're just picking him up now.
CENTER (at 9:02 am.): Alright. Heads up man, it looks like another one coming in.
The controllers observed the plane in a rapid descent; the radar data terminated over lower Manhattan. At 9:03:02 a.m., United 175 crashed into the South Tower. Meanwhile, a manager from Boston Center reported that they had deciphered what they had heard in one of the first hijacker transmissions from American 11:
BOSTON CENTER: Hey you still there?
NEW ENGLAND REGION: Yes, I am.
BOSTON CENTER: I'm gonna reconfirm with, with downstairs, but the, as far as the tape seemed to think the guy said that "we have planes." Now, I don't know if it was because it was the accent, or if there's more than one, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna reconfirm that for you, and I'll get back to you real quick. Okay?
NEW ENGLAND REGION: Appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE VOICE: They have what?
BOSTON CENTER: Planes, as in plural.
BOSTON CENTER: It sounds like, we're talking to New York, that there's another one aimed at the World Trade Center.
NEW ENGLAND REGION: There's another aircraft?
BOSTON CENTER: A second one just hit the Trade Center.
NEW ENGLAND REGION: Okay. Yeah, we gotta get ... we gotta alert the military real quick on this.
Boston Center immediately advised the New England Region that it was going to stop all aircraft scheduled to depart from any airport within Boston Center. At 9:05 a.m., Boston Center confirmed for both FAA Command Center and New England Region that the hijackers aboard American 11 said "we have planes." At the same time, New York Center declared "ATC zero" meaning that aircraft were not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through New York Center's airspace until further notice. Within minutes of the second impact, Boston Center's Operations Manager instructed all air traffic controllers in his center to use the radio frequencies to inform all aircraft in Boston Center of the events unfolding in New York and to advise aircraft to heighten cockpit security. Boston Center asked Herndon Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert to all aircraft nationwide. We have found no evidence to suggest that Command Center managers instructed any Centers to issue a cockpit security alert.
Military Notification and Response:
The first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft, United 175, came in a phone call from New York Center to NEADS at 9:03 a.m. The notice came in at about the time the plane was hitting the South Tower. At 9:08 a.m., the Mission Crew Commander at NEADS learned of the second explosion at the World Trade Center and decided against holding the fighters in military air space away from Manhattan:
MISSION CREW COMMANDER, NEADS: This is what I foresee that we probably need to do. We need to talk to FAA. We need to tell 'em if this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put 'em over Manhattan. That's best thing, that's the best play right now. So coordinate with the FAA. Tell 'em if there's more out there, which we don't know, let's get 'em over Manhattan. At least we got some kind of play.
The FAA cleared the air space. The Otis fighters were sent to Manhattan. A Combat Air Patrol was established over the city at 9:25 a.m.
Because the Otis fighters had expended a great deal of fuel in flying first to military airspace and then to New York, the battle commanders were concerned about refueling. NEADS considered scrambling alert fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to New York, to provide back-up. The Langley fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09 a.m. NORAD had no indication that any other plane had been hijacked. The following is a time lapsed depiction of the flight paths of American 11 and United 175.
American 77 began its takeoff roll from Dulles International Airport at 8:20 a.m. The flight was handed off routinely from Washington Center to Indianapolis Center at approximately 8:40 a.m.
American 77 was acknowledged by the Indianapolis controller, who had 14 other planes in his sector at the time. The controller instructed the aircraft to climb and, at 8:50 a.m., cleared it to its next navigational aid. American 77 acknowledged. This was the last transmission from American 77.
At 8:54 a.m., American 77 began deviating from its flight plan, first with a slight turn toward the south. Two minutes later it disappeared completely from Indianapolis radar. The controller tracking American 77 told us he first noticed the aircraft turning to the southwest, and then saw the data disappear. The controller looked for primary radar returns. He searched along its projected flight path and the airspace to the southwest where it had started to turn. No primary targets appeared. He tried the radios, first calling the aircraft directly, then the airline. Again there was nothing. At this point, the Indianapolis controller had no knowledge of the situation in New York. He did not know that other aircraft had been hijacked. He believed American 77 had experienced serious electrical and/or mechanical failure, and was gone.
Shortly after 9:00 a.m., Indianapolis Center started notifying other agencies that American 77 was missing and had possibly crashed. At 9:08 a.m., Indianapolis Center contacted Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and told them to look out for a downed aircraft. They also contacted the West Virginia State Police, and asked whether they had any reports of a downed aircraft. At 9:09 a.m., they reported the loss of contact to the FAA regional center, which passed this information to FAA headquarters at 9:24 a.m.. By 9:20 a.m., Indianapolis Center learned that there were other hijacked aircraft in the system, and began to doubt their initial assumption that American 77 had crashed. A discussion of this concern between the manager at Indianapolis and the Command Center in Herndon prompted the Command Center to notify some FAA field facilities that American 77 was lost. By 9:21 a.m., the Command Center, some FAA field facilities, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared it had been hijacked. At 9:25 a.m., the Command Center advised FAA headquarters that American 77 was lost in Indianapolis Center's airspace, that Indianapolis Center had no primary radar track, and was looking for the aircraft.
The failure to find a primary radar return for American 77 led us to investigate this issue further. Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was turned off at 8:56 a.m. But for eight minutes and 13 seconds, between 8:56 a.m. and 9:05 a.m., this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers at Indianapolis Center. The reasons are technical, arising from the way the software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar coverage where American 77 was flying.
According to the radar reconstruction, American 77 re-emerged as a primary target on Indianapolis Center radar scopes at 9:05 a.m., east of its last known position. The target remained in Indianapolis Center's airspace for another six minutes, then crossed into the western portion of Washington Center's airspace at 9:10 a.m. As Indianapolis Center continued searching for the aircraft, two managers and the controller responsible for American 77 looked to the west and southwest along the flight's projected path, not east, where the aircraft was now heading. The managers did not instruct other controllers at Indianapolis Center to turn on their primary radar coverage to join in the search for American 77.
In sum, Indianapolis Center never saw Flight 77 turn around. By the time it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped looking for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or were looking toward the west. In addition, while the Command Center learned Flight 77 was missing, neither it nor FAA headquarters issued an "all points bulletin" to surrounding centers to search for primary radar targets. American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.
By 9:25 a.m., FAA's Herndon Command Center and FAA headquarters knew the following. They knew two aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. They knew American 77 was lost. They knew that a hijacker on board American 11 had said "we have some planes," and concerns over the safety of other aircraft began to mount. A manager at the Herndon Command Center asked FAA headquarters if they wanted to order a "nationwide ground stop." While executives at FAA headquarters discussed it, the Command Center went ahead and ordered one anyway at 9:25 a.m..
The Command Center kept looking for American 77. At 9:21 a.m., it advised the Dulles terminal control facility, which urged its controllers to look for primary targets. At 9:32 a.m., they found one. Several of the Dulles controllers "observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed" and notified Reagan Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan and Dulles airports notified the Secret Service. The identity or aircraft type was unknown.
Reagan Airport controllers then vectored an unarmed National Guard C-130H cargo aircraft, which had just taken off en route to Minnesota, to identify and follow the suspicious aircraft. The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and at 9:38 a.m., seconds after impact, reported to Washington Tower: "looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon sir."
Military Notification and Response:
NORAD did not know about the search for American 77. Instead, they heard once again about a plane that no longer existed, American 11. At 9:21 a.m., NEADS received a report from the FAA:
FAA: Military, Boston Center. I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's on its way towards, heading towards Washington.
NEADS: Okay. American 11 is still in the air?
NEADS: On its way towards Washington?
FAA: That was another ... it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That's the latest report we have.
FAA: I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.
NEADS: Okay. So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right?
FAA: No, he is a hijack.
NEADS: He ... American 11 is a hijack?
NEADS: And he's heading into Washington?
FAA: Yes. This could be a third aircraft.
The mention of a "third aircraft" was not a reference to American 77. There was confusion at that moment in the FAA. Two planes had struck the World Trade Center, and Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Washington that American 11 was still airborne. We have been unable to identify the source of this mistaken FAA information.
The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately passed the word to the Mission Crew Commander. He reported to the NEADS Battle Commander:
MISSION CREW COMMANDER, NEADS: Okay, uh, American Airlines is still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington. Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I'm gonna take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find him.
The Mission Crew Commander at NEADS issued an order at 9:23 a.m.: "Okay scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington area." That order was processed and transmitted to Langley Air Force Base at 9:24 a.m., and radar data show the Langley fighters were airborne at 9:30 a.m.
NEADS decided to keep the Otis fighters over New York. The heading of the Langley fighters was adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area. The Mission Crew Commander explained to us that the purpose was to position the Langley fighters between the reported southbound American 11 and the nation's capital.
At the suggestion of the Boston Center's military liaison, NEADS contacted the FAA's Washington Center to ask about American 11. In the course of the conversation, a Washington Center manager informed NEADS that "We're looking ... we also lost American 77." The time was 9:34 a.m. This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance. If NEADS had not placed that call, the NEADS air defenders would have received no information whatsoever that American 77 was even missing, although the FAA had been searching for it. No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.
At 9:36 a.m., the FAA's Boston Center called NEADS and relayed the discovery about the aircraft closing in on Washington, an aircraft that still had not been linked with the missing American 77. The FAA told NEADS: "Latest report. Aircraft VFR ÛVisual Flight RulesÝ six miles southeast of the White House. Six, southwest. Six, southwest of the White House, deviating away."
This startling news prompted the Mission Crew Commander at NEADS to take immediate control of the airspace to clear a flight path for the Langley fighters: "Okay, we're going to turn it, crank it up. Run them to the White House." He then discovered, to his surprise, that the Langley fighters were not headed north toward the Baltimore area as instructed, but east over the ocean. "I don't care how many windows you break," he said. "Damn it. Okay. Push them back."
The Langley fighters were heading east, not north, for three reasons. First, unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target, or the target's location. Second, a "generic" flight plan incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. The purpose of the generic flight plan was to quickly get the aircraft airborne and out of local airspace. Third, the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan instruction to go "090 for 60" was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order.
After the 9:36 a.m. call to NEADS about the unidentified aircraft a few miles from the White House, the Langley fighters were ordered to Washington, D.C. Controllers at NEADS located an unknown primary radar track, but "it kind of faded" over Washington. The time was 9:38 a.m. The Pentagon had been struck by American 77 at 9:37:46 a.m. The Langley fighters were approximately 150 miles away.
Right after the Pentagon was hit, NEADS learned of another possible hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that in fact had not been hijacked at all. After the second World Trade Center crash, Boston Center managers recognized both aircraft were transcontinental, 767 jetliners that departed Logan Airport. Remembering the "we have some planes" remark, Boston Center had guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked. Boston Center called NEADS at 9:41 a.m. and identified Delta 1989, a 767 jet that departed Logan Airport destined for Las Vegas, as a possible hijack. NEADS warned the FAA's Cleveland air traffic control center to watch Delta 1989. The FAA's Herndon Command Center and FAA headquarters were watching it too. During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft in the system. The report of American 11 heading south was the first; Delta 1989 was the second.
NEADS never lost track of Delta 1989, and even launched fighter aircraft from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it. The flight never turned off its transponder. NEADS soon learned that the aircraft was not hijacked, and tracked Delta 1989 as it reversed course over Toledo, headed east, and landed in Cleveland. But another aircraft was heading toward Washington.
The following is a time lapsed depiction of the flight path of American 77. (Video shown).
United 93 took off from Newark at 8:42 a.m. It was more than 40 minutes late. At 9:28 a.m., United 93 acknowledged a transmission from the controller. This was the last normal contact the FAA had with United 93.
Less than a minute later, the Cleveland controller and the pilots of aircraft in the vicinity heard "a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin "
The controller responded, seconds later: "Somebody call Cleveland?" This was followed by a second radio transmission, with sounds of screaming and someone yelling "Get out of here, get out of here," again from an unknown source. The Cleveland Center controllers began to try to identify the possible source of the transmissions, and noticed that United 93 had descended some 700 feet. The controller attempted again to raise United 93 several times, with no response. At 9:30 a.m., the controller began to poll the other flights on his frequency to determine if they heard the screaming; several said they had. At 9:32 a.m., a third radio transmission came over the frequency: "Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board." The controller understood, but chose to respond: "Calling Cleveland center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly." He notified his supervisor, who passed the notice up the chain of command. By 9:34 a.m., word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters.
FAA headquarters had by this time established an open line of communication with the Command Center at Herndon and instructed it to poll all the Centers about suspect aircraft. The Command Center executed the request and, a minute later, Cleveland Center reported that "United 93 may have a bomb on board." That was the information Command Center relayed to FAA headquarters at 9:34 a.m. Between 9:34 a.m. and 9:38 a.m., the controller observed United 93 climbing to 40,700 feet and immediately moved several aircraft out of its way. The controller continued to try to contact United 93, and asked whether the pilot could confirm that he had been hijacked. There was no response. Then, at 9:39, a fifth radio transmission came over the radio frequency from United 93:
ZIAD JARRAH: Uh, is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to have our demands ÛunintelligibleÝ. Please remain quiet.
The controller responded: "United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead." The flight did not respond. At 9:41 a.m., Cleveland Center lost United 93's transponder signal. The controller located it on primary radar, matched its position with visual sightings from other aircraft, and tracked the flight as it turned east, then south. At about 9:36 a.m., Cleveland Center asked Command Center specifically whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to intercept United 93. Cleveland Center offered to contact a nearby military base. Command Center replied that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make that decision and were working the issue.
From 9:34 a.m. to 10:08 a.m., a Command Center manager updated executives at FAA headquarters on the progress of United 93. During this time, the plane reversed course over Ohio and headed toward Washington.
At 9:42 a.m., Command Center learned from television news reports that a plane had struck the Pentagon. The Command Center's National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney, ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport. This was a totally unprecedented order. The air traffic control system handled it with great skill, as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft soon landed without incident.
At 9:46 a.m. and again two minutes later, Command Center updated FAA headquarters that United 93 was now "29 minutes out of Washington, DC."
A minute after that, at 9:49 a.m., 13 minutes after getting the question from Cleveland Center about military help, Command Center suggested that someone at headquarters should decide whether to request military assistance:
FAA HEADQUARTERS: They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 93.
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, God, I don't know.
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.
At 9:53 a.m., FAA headquarters informed Command Center that the Deputy Director for Air Traffic Services was talking to Deputy Administrator Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft. Then Command Center informed headquarters they lost track of United 93 over the Pittsburgh area. Within seconds, Command Center received a visual report from another aircraft, and informed headquarters that the aircraft was 20 miles northwest of Johnstown. United 93 was spotted by another aircraft, and, at 10:01 a.m., Command Center advised FAA headquarters that one of the aircraft had seen United 93 "waving his wings." The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers' effort to defeat the passenger assault. United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03:11 a.m., 125 miles from Washington, DC. The precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute. The 10:03:11 time is supported by evidence from the staff's radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB analysis, and infrared satellite data. Five minutes later, Command Center forwarded this update to headquarters:
COMMAND CENTER: O.K. Uh, there is now on that United 93.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Yes.
COMMAND CENTER: There is a report of black smoke in the last position I gave you, fifteen miles south of Johnstown.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: From the airplane or from the ground?
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, they're speculating it's from the aircraft.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Okay.
COMMAND CENTER: Uh, who, it hit the ground. That's what they're speculating, that's speculation only.
The aircraft that spotted the "black smoke" was the same unarmed Air National Guard cargo plane that had seen American 77 crash into the Pentagon 26 minutes earlier. It had resumed its flight to Minnesota and saw the smoke from the crash of United 93, less than two minutes after the plane went down. At 10:17 a.m., Command Center advised headquarters of its conclusion that United 93 had indeed crashed.
Despite the discussions about military assistance, no one from FAA headquarters requested military assistance regarding United 93. Nor did any manager at FAA headquarters pass any of the information it had about United 93 to the military.
Military Notification and Response:
NEADS first received a call about United 93 from the military liaison at Cleveland Center, at 10:07 a.m. Unaware that the aircraft had already crashed, Cleveland passed to NEADS the aircraft's last known latitude and longitude. NEADS was never able to locate United 93 on radar because it was already in the ground.
At the same time, the NEADS Mission Crew Commander was dealing with the arrival of the Langley fighters over Washington, D.C. He was sorting out what their orders were with respect to potential targets. Shortly after 10:10 a.m., and having no knowledge either that United 93 had been heading toward Washington or that it had crashed, the Mission Crew Commander explicitly instructed that the Langley fighters did not have "clearance to shoot" aircraft over the nation's capital.
The news of a reported bomb on board United 93 spread quickly at NEADS. The air defenders searched for United 93's primary radar return and tried to locate assets to scramble toward the plane. NEADS called Washington Center to report:
NEADS: I also want to give you a heads-up, Washington.
FAA (DC): Go ahead.
NEADS: United nine three, have you got information on that yet?
FAA: Yeah, he's down.
NEADS: He's down?
NEADS: When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation.
FAA: He did not land.
NEADS: Oh, he's down? Down?
FAA: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David.
NEADS: Northeast of Camp David.
FAA: That's the last report. They don't know exactly where.